Birds of prey in Scotland will be at risk of injury or death because of a decision to allow the use of so-called “clam traps”, according to campaigners.
SNH has agreed to license the use of clam traps from next year.
The trap system works by snapping shut when a bird lands on a perch to feed on bait.
They are designed to capture crows and magpies, but RSPB Scotland said “non-target” species such as buzzards and sparrowhawks would also be at risk.
It is claimed larger traps could even pose a threat to golden eagles.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, of RSPB Scotland, said:
There have been many recent incidents, including some resulting in prosecutions, illustrating the widespread misuse of the current range of traps and the deliberate targeting of protected species.
“RSPB Scotland has documented 127 confirmed incidents related to the use of ‘crow’ traps over the last 10 years, including the deliberate killing of captured birds of prey, the starvation of trapped birds, and evidence of a widespread lackadaisical attitude towards adherence to current licence conditions.
“With this in mind, we are very concerned that the licensing of new, untested traps will only increase the threats faced by our raptors.”
The Chief Superintendent of the Scottish SPCA, Mike Flynn, told BBC Scotland:
“We did recommend that these clam traps should be subject to an independent, scientific trial before being licensed.
“Until such a trial has taken place, which demonstrates that these traps do not cause injury or harm to any species caught, the Scottish SPCA continues to have concerns over them.”
The legal status of clam traps had been unclear and gamekeepers have welcomed SNH’s decision to license their use on a trial basis, arguing a wide range of species including wading birds and red squirrels will benefit.
Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association Alex Hogg said:
“We and other land-based agencies welcome the clarity that has been provided by SNH on the matter of identifying legal traps for use.
“Clam traps have been used for the past four years with no evidence of welfare issues.
“They are used as effective tools for the protection of game birds from predation. Black grouse and waders, whose numbers are of conservation concern, have also been shown to benefit.”
Scottish Natural Heritage has pledged to monitor the use of clam traps carefully.
Ben Ross, SNH’s licensing manager, said:
“We will commission objective research on these traps; if the research shows they pose unacceptable risks, we will then prohibit them.
“We’ll also work with partners to develop a code of practice for the use of traps.”